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THE MAHABHARATA ADI PARVA
“Vaisampayana said, “On hearing these words of the Brahmana, his wife said, ‘Thou shouldst not, O Brahmana, grieve like an ordinary man. Nor is this the time for mourning. Thou hast learning; thou knowest that all men are sure to die; none should grieve for that which is inevitable. Wife, son, and daughter, all these are sought for one’s own self. As thou art possessed of a good understanding, kill thou thy sorrows. I will myself go there. This indeed, is the highest and the eternal duty of a woman, viz., that by sacrificing her life she should seek the good of her husband. Such an act done by me will make thee happy, and bring me fame in this world and eternal bliss hereafter. This, indeed, is the highest virtue that I tell thee, and thou mayest, by this, acquire both virtue and happiness. The object for which one desireth a wife hath already been achieved by thee through me. I have borne thee a daughter and a son and thus been freed from the debt I had owed thee. Thou art well able to support and cherish the children, but I however, can never support and cherish them like thee. Thou art my life, wealth, and lord; bereft of thee, how shall these children of tender years–how also shall I myself, exist? Widowed and masterless, with two children depending on me, how shall I, without thee, keep alive the pair, myself leading an honest life?
If the daughter of thine is solicited (in marriage) by persons dishonourable and vain and unworthy of contracting an alliance with thee, how shall I be able to protect the girl? Indeed, as birds seek with avidity for meat that hath been thrown away on the ground, so do men solicit a woman that hath lost her husband. O best of Brahmanas, solicited by wicked men, I may waver and may not be able to continue in the path that is desired by all honest men. How shall I be able to place this sole daughter of thy house–this innocent girl–in the way along which her ancestors have always walked? How shall I then be able to impart unto this child every desirable accomplishment to make him virtuous as thyself, in that season of want when I shall become masterless? Overpowering myself who shall be masterless, unworthy persons will demand (the hand of) this daughter of thine, like Sudras desiring to hear the Vedas. And if I bestow not upon them this girl possessing thy blood and qualities, they may even take her away by force, like crows carrying away the sacrificial butter. And beholding thy son become so unlike to thee, and thy daughter placed under the control of some unworthy persons, I shall be despised in the world by even persons that are dishonourable, and I will certainly die. These children also, bereft of me and thee, their father, will, I doubt not, perish like fish when the water drieth up. There is no doubt that bereft of thee the three will perish: therefore it behoveth thee to sacrifice me. O Brahmana, persons conversant with morals have said that for women that have borne children, to predecease their lords is an act of the highest merit.
Ready am I to abandon this son and this daughter, these my relations, and life itself, for thee. For a woman to be ever employed in doing agreeable offices to her lord is a higher duty than sacrifices, asceticism, vows, and charities of every description. The act, therefore, which I intend to perform is consonant with the highest virtue and is for thy good and that of thy race. The wise have declared that children and relatives and wife and all things held dear are cherished for the purpose of liberating one’s self from danger and distress. One must guard one’s wealth for freeing one’s self from danger, and it is by his wealth that he should cherish and protect his wife. But he must protect his own self both by (means of) his wife and his wealth. The learned have enunciated the truth that one’s wife, son, wealth, and house, are acquired with the intention of providing against accidents, foreseen or unforeseen. The wise have also said that all one’s relations weighed against one’s own self would not be equal unto one’s self. Therefore, revered sir, protect thy own self by abandoning me. O, give me leave to sacrifice myself, and cherish thou my children. Those that are conversant with the morals have, in their treatises, said, that women should never be slaughtered and that Rakshasas are not ignorant of the rules of morality. Therefore, while it is certain that the Rakshasa will kill a man, it is doubtful whether he will kill a woman. It behoveth thee, therefore, being conversant with the rules of morality, to place me before the Rakshasa. I have enjoyed much happiness, have obtained much that is agreeable to me, and have also acquired great religious merit. I have also obtained from thee children that are so dear to me. Therefore, it grieveth not me to die. I have borne thee children and have also grown old; I am ever desirous of doing good to thee; remembering all these I have come to this resolution. O revered sir, abandoning me thou mayest obtain another wife. By her thou mayest again acquire religious merit. There is no sin in this. For a man polygamy is an act of merit, but for a woman it is very sinful to betake herself to a second husband after the first. Considering all this, and remembering too that sacrifice of thy own self is censurable, O, liberate today without loss of time thy own self, thy race, and these thy children (by abandoning me).’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘Thus addressed by her, O Bharata, the Brahmana embraced her, and they both began to weep in silence, afflicted with grief.’”
“Vaisampayana said, ‘On hearing these words of her afflicted parents, the daughter was filled with grief, and she addressed them, saying, ‘Why are you so afflicted and why do you so weep, as if you have none to look after you? O, listen to me and do what may be proper. There is little doubt that you are bound in duty to abandon me at a certain time. Sure to abandon me once, O, abandon me now and save every thing at the expense of me alone. Men desire to have children, thinking that children would save them (in this world as well as in the region hereafter). O, cross the stream of your difficulties by means of my poor self, as if I were a raft. A child rescueth his parents in this and the other regions; therefore is the child called by the learned Putra (rescuer). The ancestors desire daughter’s sons from me (as a special means of salvation). But (without waiting for my children) I myself will rescue them by protecting the life of my father. This my brother is of tender years, so there is little doubt that he will perish if thou diest now. If thou, my father, diest and my brother followeth thee, the funeral cake of the Pitris will be suspended and they will be greatly injured. Left behind by my father and brother, and by my mother also (for she will not survive her husband and son) I shall be plunged deeper and deeper in woe and ultimately perish in great distress. There can be little doubt that if thou escape from this danger as also my mother and infant brother, then thy race and the (ancestral) cake will be perpetuated. The son is one’s own self; the wife is one’s friend; the daughter, however, is the source of trouble. Do thou save thyself, therefore, by removing that source of trouble, and do thou thereby set me in the path of virtue. As I am a girl, O father, destitute of thee, I shall be helpless and plunged in woe, and shall have to go everywhere.
It is therefore that I am resolved to rescue my father’s race and share the merit of that act by accomplishing this difficult task. If thou, O best of Brahmanas, goest thither (unto the Rakshasa), leaving me here, then I shall be very much pained. Therefore, O father, be kind to me. O thou best of men, for our sake, for that of virtue and also thy race, save thyself, abandoning me, whom at one time thou shall be constrained to part from. There need be no delay, O father, in doing that which is inevitable. What can be more painful than that, when thou hast ascended to heaven, we shall have to go about begging our food, like dogs, from strangers. But if thou art rescued with thy relations from these difficulties, I shall then live happily in the region of the celestials. It hath been heard by us that if after bestowing thy daughter in this way, thou offerest oblations to the gods and the celestials, they will certainly be propitious.’
“Vaisampayana continued, ‘The Brahmana and his wife, hearing these various lamentations of their daughter, became sadder than before and the three began to weep together. Their son, then, of tender years, beholding them and their daughter thus weeping together, lisped these words in a sweet tone, his eyes having dilated with delight, ‘Weep not, O father, nor thou, O mother, nor thou O sister!’ And smilingly did the child approach each of them, and at last taking up a blade of grass said in glee, ‘With this will I slay the Rakshasa who eateth human beings!’ Although all of them had been plunged in woe, yet hearing what the child lisped so sweetly, joy appeared on their faces. Then Kunti thinking that to be the proper opportunity, approached the group and said these words. Indeed, her words revived them as nectar reviveth a person that is dead.’”
‘Kunti said, ‘I desire to learn from you the cause of this grief, for I will remove it, if possible.’
“The Brahmana replied, ‘O thou of ascetic wealth, thy speech is, indeed worthy of thee. But this grief is incapable of being removed by any human being. Not far from this town, there liveth a Rakshasa of the name of Vaka, which cannibal is the lord of this country and town. Thriving on human flesh, that wretched Rakshasa endued with great strength ruleth this country. He being the chief of the Asuras, this town and the country in which it is situate are protected by his might. We have no fear from the machinations of any enemy, or indeed from any living soul. The fee, however, fixed for that cannibal is his food, which consists of a cart-load of rice, two buffaloes, and a human being who conveyeth them unto him. One after another, the house-holders have to send him this food. The turn, however, cometh to a particular family at intervals of many long years. If there are any that seek to avoid it, the Rakshasa slayeth them with their children and wives and devoureth them all. There is, in this country, a city called Vetrakiya, where liveth the king of these territories. He is ignorant of the science of government, and possessed of little intelligence, he adopts not with care any measure by which these territories may be rendered safe for all time to come. But we certainly deserve it all, inasmuch as we live within the dominion of that wretched and weak monarch in perpetual anxiety. Brahmanas can never be made to dwell permanently within the dominions of any one, for they are dependent on nobody, they live rather like birds ranging all countries in perfect freedom.
It hath been said that one must secure a (good) king, then a wife, and then wealth. It is by the acquisition of these three that one can rescue his relatives and sons. But as regards the acquisition of these three, the course of my actions hath been the reverse. Hence, plunged into a sea of danger, am suffering sorely. That turn, destructive of one’s family, hath now devolved upon me. I shall have to give unto the Rakshasa as his fee the food of the aforesaid description and one human being to boot. I have no wealth to buy a man with. I cannot by any means consent to part with any one of my family, nor do I see any way of escape from (the clutches of) that Rakshasa. I am now sunk in an ocean of grief from which there is no escape. I shall go to that Rakshasa today, attended by all my family in order that that wretch might devour us all at once’”
“Kunti said, Grieve not at all, O Brahmana, on account of this danger. I see a way by which to rescue thee from that Rakshasa. Thou hast only one son, who, besides, is of very tender years, also only one daughter, young and helpless, so I do not like that any of these, or thy wife, or even thyself should go unto the Rakshasa. I have five sons, O Brahmana, let one of them go, carrying in thy behalf tribute of that Rakshasa.’
“Hearing this, the Brahmana replied, ‘To save my own life I shall never suffer this to be done. I shall never sacrifice, to save myself, the life of a Brahmana or of a guest. Indeed, even those that are of low origin and of sinful practices refuse to do (what thou askest me to do). It is said that one should sacrifice one’s self and one’s offspring for the benefit of a Brahmana. I regard this advice excellent and I like to follow it too. When I have to choose between the death of a Brahmana and that of my own, I would prefer the latter. The killing of a Brahmana is the highest sin, and there is no expiation for it. I think a reluctant sacrifice of one’s own self is better than the reluctant sacrifice of a Brahmana. O blessed lady, in sacrificing myself I do not become guilty of self-destruction. No sin can attach to me when another will take my life. But if I deliberately consent to the death of a Brahmana, it would be a cruel and sinful act, from the consequence of which there is no escape. The learned have said that the abandonment of one who hath come to thy house or sought thy protection, as also the killing of one who seeketh death at thy hands, is both cruel and sinful. The illustrious among those conversant with practices allowable in seasons of distress, have before now said that one should never perform an act that is cruel and censurable. It is well for me that I should today perish myself with my wife, but I would never sanction the death of a Brahmana.’
“Kunti said, ‘I too am firmly of opinion, O Brahmana, that Brahmanas should ever be protected. As regards myself, no son of mine would be less dear to me even if I had a hundred instead of the five I have. But this Rakshasa will not be able to kill my son, for that son of mine is endued with great prowess and energy, and skilled in mantras. He will faithfully deliver to the Rakshasa his food, but will, I know to a certainty, rescue himself. I have seen before many mighty Rakshasas of huge bodies engaged in combat with my heroic son and killed too by him. But, O Brahmana, do not disclose this fact to anybody, for if it be known, persons desirous of obtaining this power, will, from curiosity, always trouble my sons. The wise have said that if my son imparteth any knowledge, without the assent of his preceptor, unto any person, my son himself will no longer be able to profit by that knowledge.’
“Thus addressed by Pritha, the Brahmana with his wife became exceedingly glad and assented to Kunti’s speech, which was unto them as nectar. Then Kunti, accompanied by the Brahmana, went unto the son of Vayu (Bhima) and asked him to accomplish (that difficult task). Bhima replied unto them, saying, ‘So be it.’”
“Vaisampayana said, ‘After Bhima had pledged himself to accomplish the task, saying, ‘I will do it,’ the Pandavas, O Bharata, returned home with the alms they had obtained during the day. Then Yudhishthira, the son of Pandu from Bhima’s countenance alone, suspected the nature of the task he had undertaken to accomplish. Sitting by the side of his mother, Yudhishthira asked her in private, ‘What is the task, O mother, that Bhima of terrible prowess seeketh to accomplish? Doth he do so at thy command or of his own accord?’ Kunti replied, ‘Bhima, that chastiser of foes, will at my command, do this great deed for the good of the Brahmana and the liberation of this town.’
“Yudhishthira said, ‘What rash act hast thou done, O mother! It is difficult of being performed and almost amounteth to suicide! The learned never applaud the abandonment of one’s own child. Why dost thou, O mother, wish to sacrifice thy own child for the sake of another’s? Thou hast, O mother, by this abandonment of thy child, acted not only against the course of human practices but also against the teachings of the Vedas, That Bhima, relying on whose arms we sleep happily in the night and hope to recover the kingdom of which we have been deprived by the covetous son of Dhritarashtra, that hero of immeasurable energy, remembering whose prowess Duryodhana and Sakuni do not sleep a wink during the whole night and by whose prowess we were rescued from the palace of lac and various other dangers, that Bhima who caused the death of Purochana, and relying on whose might we regard ourselves as having already slain the sons of Dhritarashtra and acquired the whole earth with all her wealth, upon what considerations, O mother, hast thou resolved upon abandoning him? Hast thou been deprived of thy reason? Hath thy understanding been clouded by the calamities thou hast undergone?’
“On hearing these words of her son, Kunti said, ‘O Yudhishthira, thou needst not be at all anxious on account of Vrikodara. I have not come to this resolve owing to any weakness of understanding. Respected by him, and with our sorrows assuaged, we have, O son, been living in the house of this Brahmana, unknown to the sons of Dhritarashtra. For requiting, O son, that Brahmana, I have resolved to do this. He, indeed, is a man upon whom good offices are never lost. The measure of his requital becometh greater than the measure of the services he receiveth. Beholding the prowess of Bhima on the occasion of (our escape from) the house of lac, and from the destruction also of Hidimva, my confidence in Vrikodara is great. The might of Bhima’s arms is equal unto that of ten thousand elephants. It was, therefore, that he succeeded in carrying you all, each heavy as an elephant, from Varanavata. There is no one on earth equal unto Bhima in might; he may even overcome that foremost of warriors, the holder of the thunderbolt himself. Soon after his birth he fell from my lap on the breast of the mountain. By the weight of his body the mass of stone on which he fell down broke in pieces. From this also, O son of Pandu, I have come to know Bhima’s might. For this reason have I resolved to set him against the Brahmana’s foe.
I have not acted in this from foolishness or ignorance or from motive of gain. I have deliberately resolved to do this virtuous deed. By this act, O Yudhishthira, two objects will be accomplished; one is a requital of the services rendered by the Brahmana and the other is the acquisition of high religious merit. It is my conviction that the Kshatriya who rendereth help unto a Brahmana in anything acquireth regions of bliss hereafter. So also a Kshatriya who saveth the life of a Kshatriya achieveth that great fame in this world as in the other. A Kshatriya rendering help unto a Vaisya also on this earth certainly acquires world-wide popularity. One of the kingly tribe should protect even the Sudra who cometh to him for protection. If he doeth so, in his next life he receiveth his birth in a royal line, commanding prosperity and the respect of other kings. O scion of Puru’s race, the illustrious Vyasa of wisdom acquired by hard ascetic toil told me so in bygone days. It is therefore, that I have resolved upon accomplishing this.’”